If you haven’t seen the “Written by a Kid” series yet, you should. As advertised, the short episodes are conceived entirely by young children and are acted out and animated by some rather high-profile adults. For instance, the first in the series, “Scary Smash,” includes Dave Foley (from “Kids in the Hall” and “News Radio” fame), Joss Whedon (of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Veronica Mars”), and Kate Micucci (of the comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates.)
But the stories and their authors are what matter most. In “Scary Smash,” as told by a boy named Brett, a red, one-eyed monster smashes a milk truck and a “S.Q.U.A.T.” team is sent in to save the day. In “Fire City,” six-year-old Aaron tells an apocalyptic tale set in “S country” where one million fire fighters reside in a single fire station. And six-year-old Emily’s “La Munkya”—about a really hungry, paper horse—is another noteworthy episode.
Never mind that these stories are incredibly well produced and entertaining for kids and adults alike, “Written by a Kid” affords teachers and parents some great lessons.
Use oral storytelling to empower kids.
For very young children—or for kids who struggle with putting their thoughts down on paper—oral storytelling can be very empowering. Oral storytelling enables them to focus on developing a plot in an easy, fun way—without being hampered by the physical act of writing or the challenge of “writer’s block.” Sometimes, kids also will use oral storytelling to try out new vocabulary words that they haven’t yet learned to spell.
Teach the elements of story.
With oral storytelling, kids have the freedom to create a story’s title, its setting, its characters and their motivations and actions, as well as a story’s conflicts and resolution. As with written stories, oral tales include sequences and transitions—kids understand that something happens first, next, and last.
Kids may also pick up the concepts of “theme” and “genre.” Love, death, and good-versus-evil pop up a lot in “Written by a Kid” episodes, many of which fall into the “horror” and “sci-fi” categories.
Don’t sweat the details.
Josh Flaum and Will Bowles, the creators of “Written by a Kid,” change absolutely nothing in the stories kids tell them, and errors are allowed to stand. (In one exchange, a young storyteller announced her story takes place in California. When asked where in California, she confidently replied, “Texas, California!”)
To stop and correct the child would have stopped her creative flow and also, perhaps, shaken her confidence and willingness to share her thoughts.
When listening to a new story, Flaum and Bowles pay very close attention. Both physically and emotionally, they get down on the storyteller’s level, allowing the storyteller to drive his or her story with minimal interruptions. (Flaum and Bowles do ask clarifying questions which only further demonstrate the extent to which they <i>are</i> paying attention.)
By serving as an attentive audience, we validate our storytellers, we encourage their creativity, and we give them purpose.
Use technology to bring their stories to life.
Although they certainly do help, you don’t have to have iMovie and a Mac to bring children’s stories to life. There are many free digital storytelling tools worth checking out.